Ellen Shapiro, founder of Alphagram

Our Story

Good products emanate from a real need.

When Alphagram founder Ellen Shapiro’s son Alex Miller was finishing first grade and still not learning to read, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Ellen engaged the services of a tutor who used explicit, multisensory techniques. In a relatively short time, the tutor taught Alex to listen to a sound and repeat it, look at a letter shape, and associate the letter with an icon or pictorial cue that represented that sound. Soon Alex was able to put together two and three letters to read syllables and words. And then to decode phrases, sentences, and stories.

Today, Alex has a degree in East Asian Studies from Oberlin College and is chief technology officer one of Asia’s hottest internet companies—and is an amazing dad himself who’s teaching his pre-schooler son with Alphagram—and encouraging Ellen to expand the product line beyond the teacher-tutor market and make it widely available to parents.


The tutor’s techniques were successful, but her homemade materials left much to be desired. As a graphic designer, Ellen realized that her expertise could fulfill a need. She consulted with experts in phonemic awareness, visited schools, met with special education teachers and regular classroom teachers, and attended conference workshops. Inspired by the flip-books that let you make funny, mixed-up characters with different heads, bodies, and feet, she developed a flip-book with moveable flash cards with large letters, icons, and key words. The patented Is It a Word–Or Not? flip-book makes more than 1,200 consonant-short vowel-consonant syllables and words (CVCs, the building blocks of reading).

For learners having difficulties.

For some children—about 15 percent of the population—learning to read is difficult. Many popular reading programs and teaching techniques do not work for kids with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. That’s because the pages of typical phonics workbooks are crammed with way too many letters, words, and pictures. Directions like, “Circle all the words that begin with…” are about other activities, like coloring, not reading. They can confuse and frustrate children.

Research has shown that kids with learning difficulties can only learn to read with a systematic, sequential approach that uses multi-sensory techniques. Alphagram products are designed to focus the child’s attention on one large letter at a time, with no distracting elements. Color-coding keeps eyes going in the right direction. Large, clear, well designed letters and icons help kids associate each letter shape with its sound. There are no parts to get lost or out of order.

And for every child.

If these techniques can help kids with learning and language difficulties, can’t they help all children learn to read sooner and better? Yes! Alphagram materials can supplement literature-based K-3 reading programs. They can reinforce words in the day’s story or teach common spelling patterns. They can be used in small groups and resource rooms to help students who need extra attention. Alphagram products are also excellent for home schooling. They are a great way for parents and grandparents to introduce pre-schoolers to the alphabet and the concepts of letter-sounds and blending.

We listen.

Since we first tested prototypes with primary-grade reading teachers in New York City, customers have been telling us that kids love our products—and that they work. Please see our “From Parents and Teachers” (testimonials) page.

Based on teacher, tutor, and parent requests, we developed a line of products including WordMaker, with individual packs of cards that let you spell any word; the Ready, Set, Read! teaching guide series filled with fun, effective lesson activities; Big Letter-Sound Cards for hanging on the wall, “Letter-Sounds Posters” in English, Spanish, Hebrew, and Chinese; “Alphagram Tracing Letters” for handwriting practice (many kids who can read can’t write legibly); and our super-fun “Write the Right Word” game that teaches vocabulary and spelling.

Let us know what you would like to see (and use) next!

We want to hear from you.

We warmly welcome product feedback. How are you using our products? How is your child or student using them to succeed? How could this site be improved? Please e-mail us at info@alphagram.com.